Notes on Food

Several news articles popping up this morning about the growing international food crisis…

First, my local paper has the a story about UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon declaring that world food production must increase 50% by 2030 to meet increasing global demand. This is a huge undertaking that in my opinion will be very hard to accomplish. Increasing output by 50% can be done on a relatively small scale with relative ease in some cases; when you are talking about a project like global food production, though, the scope of work and amount of effort required will be truly massive, especially in an age where the population keeps growing, we keep losing cropland to development, desertification or depletion, and the cost of the fertilizers & pesticides needed to fuel the ‘green revolution’ keep increasing as oil rises.

On a related note, another UN official is accusing the rich nations of the world of ignoring the problem of the global food supply. Between cutting funds for international agricultural relief and subsidizing biofuel production, the rich nations are exacerbating the problem rather than helping combat it. I’ve already argued that diverting food crops to fuel production is a very poor choice both ethically and economically, so I see little need to expound on that. The global credit crisis that we are currently in will mandate nations spending less on overseas philanthropic efforts… they have their hands full taking care of things at home.

Finally, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is continuing to make himself popular with the US government by proposing the creation of a global infrastructure to regulate the food market. Again, he rails against the West and how they are making the food crisis worse instead of better. Interstingly enough, at this same UN conference was Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe, who has single-handedly destroyed one of the most productive agricultural nations in Africa and plunged his country into a food problem of his own making.

Food will continue to be a headliner for a long while, since prices are going up, and there will be a growing pool of losers in this particular zero-sum game. Much of the food we Americans buy is over-processed, low-nutrient crap, but at least it’s available and can sustain life. Others around the world are not so lucky, and nothing fuels chaos like starving, angry people with little left to lose.

Something to consider is that food inflation is becoming a big problem in the Middle East, which will be bound to contribute to the instability that simmers under the surface of many of the major oil-exporting nations in the region.

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4 Responses to Notes on Food

  1. Matt says:

    The Iranian president is slamming the West because food is too expensive? We aught to be charging the same ammount for a barrel of corn or wheat.

    How come he complains about food prices being fixed or manipulated, yet he thinks that it’s acceptable to fix oil prices.

    Too bad his country has oil, guess you can’t eat oil!

    “The devaluation of the dollar and the global inflation, and some others consider environmental changes and droughts, the increase in consumption, the inappropriateness of agricultural methods and the low level of production efficiency, and the witness of farmers,” he said.

    As a solution, the Iranian president suggested “the formation of an independent and powerful body, obeyed by all countries, to justly regulate the food market and organize all its related issues from production to consumption.”

  2. Bart says:

    Hello Matt,

    Thanks for your comment. I’m sure part of this is Ahmadinejad grandstanding.. or maybe he believes what he’s saying. Setting up yet another global bureaucracy would do no good in my opinion. Regardless, it’s always easier to wag your finger at someone else’s problems than it is to look in the mirror.

  3. Harry says:

    But Matt you do eat oil consisting in the fertilizers, chemicals and road transport costs.

  4. phaedrus says:

    I prefer my food locally produced and without fertilizers or chemicals.

    I haven’t achieved 100% and I’m pretty sure even most organic farmers use tractors and have to deliver locally, but taking those steps do significantly reduce the amount of oil you eat.

    I’m just hoping that as the cost of oil goes up, the cost of food produced with less oil rises more gradually and becomes relatively more affordable so I don’t have to wince quite as bad when I pay for my groceries.

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